Penaeus megalops, P. braziliensis, P. vannamei, P. stefirus, P. aztecus, P. duorarum, P. monodon, P. esculentes, P. semisculatus, P. chinensis
Black tiger shrimp, tiger prawn, white shrimp, ebi (sushi).
Shrimp can be divided into three general categories, based on their habitat: cold water/northern; warm water/tropical or southern; and fresh water.
Though technically they designate different families, in English the terms “shrimp” and “prawn” are used interchangeably. In the United States, “shrimp” is the generic name for all shrimp and prawn varieties.
Issues with Wild-Caught Shrimp
The majority of shrimp found on the market are tropical. All shrimp have a short life span and grow quickly. They reproduce prolifically, and so are considered resistant to overfishing. However they are invariably subjected to intensive fishing and even though the majority of stocks are not yet showing clear signs of over-exploitation, they are close to their maximum sustainable yield.
The fishing techniques used to catch shrimp represent a considerable risk to the environment.
The majority of wild tropical shrimp are caught using midwater or bottom trawling, which leads to significant bycatch. Trawl nets catch everything in their path, including endangered sea turtles, juvenile fish, sharks and other marine life. This bycatch is thrown back overboard, dead or dying.
Shrimp trawling has the highest rate of bycatch of any other commercial fishing technique. Some fishermen have adopted measures to reduce bycatch, for example using systems that allow sea turtles to escape from the nets. However, there is no particular labeling that allows consumers to differentiate these products at the moment of purchase.
Trawling can also have dramatic repercussions for the marine environment. Tropical shrimp often live in habitats easily damaged by heavy trawl nets. This damage is often irreparable, as in the case of coral reefs.
Issues with Farmed Shrimp
Global demand for shrimp continues to grow, and farmed shrimp make up an increasingly large proportion of the supply.
One of the most serious problems linked to shrimp farming is the destruction of wide swathes of mangrove forest along tropical coastlines in order to build shrimp farms. Mangroves are not only home to rich plant and animal biodiversity, but also serve as protection against soil erosion and as a buffer zone protecting the coast from hurricanes and tsunamis.
The disappearance of mangroves is also having catastrophic consequences for artisanal fishing, a source of food and income for many local communities. The salt water from the farm ponds can cause the salinization of arable land, transforming productive regions into deserts, while the saline contamination of aquifers can reduce the amount of fresh water available for domestic or agricultural use.
Shrimp farming uses vast amounts of feed and it creates serious pollution in coastal waters from uneaten food, excrement, plankton, bacteria, dissolved substances (ammonia, urea, carbon dioxide and phosphorous), antibiotics and other chemicals like disinfectants, soil and water conditioning products, pesticides and fertilizers. Antibiotics and other chemical products can be toxic for the surrounding wild fauna and flora.
The introduction of exotic species has negative effects on the original fauna’s genetic diversity and the ecosystem.
The level of environmental damage varies enormously from one farm to another and from one country to another. There is no developed certification system and a complex chain of processing and distribution separates the farming site from the consumer’s plate. It is therefore very difficult to clearly trace the origin of shrimp and to know in what kind of conditions they were farmed.
The spread of shrimp farming and the destruction of mangrove forests and coastal ecosystems is putting the food security, livelihoods and culture of millions of human beings at risk. Many traditional subsistence economies are threatened because the shrimp farms often “privatize” formerly public land and navigable waterways, hurting local fishing activities, devastating habitats and limiting access to the water. Hundreds of thousands of people living along the coast have had to move, sometimes after the forced confiscation of their land. In many countries, conflicts are resolved with threats, intimidation and sometimes even the assassination of anti-aquaculture protesters.
In many commercial farming systems, the density of shrimp in the ponds is very high. This requires the use of large quantities of pesticides, antibiotics and other chemical products in order to avoid diseases and maximize profits. These long-lasting, toxic pollutants can cause health problems for farmers and consumers and increase human resistance to antibiotics.
Advice and Alternatives
Do not eat tropical, warm-water shrimp, whether wild or farmed (unless farmed organically).
Wild-caught shrimp should be chosen based on where they were fished. Americans can buy cold-water crustaceans caught in the Canadian Atlantic, Oregon and British Columbia. Certified local shrimp are always an excellent alternative. Organically farmed shrimp are another option. However, organic certification generally does not guarantee anything about the social aspects of the farm, so it is best to look for shrimp that are certified organic and fair trade.
Even when caught or farmed sustainably (which is very rare), shrimp are usually processed wherever labor is cheap, then shipped to restaurants and consumers around the world, a system with an enormous ecological impact.
It is therefore advisable to save eating shrimp for special occasions.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Environmental Justice Foundation